Priests prepare to bless hundreds of tractors in France

The tradition has its roots in the Rogation days of prayer and fasting in western Christianity - and is gaining in popularity

French priest blesses a line of tractors under blue sky
The ceremony and the benediction was requested by several Catholic farmers

Farmers around France are polishing their tractors for a trip to the local priest, in the hope that his blessing at Ascension on May 9 could help bring good fortune.

The tradition has its roots in the Rogation days - days of prayer and fasting in western Christianity, a longstanding tradition that faded from view for many years, but has been gaining renewed interest of late.

Benedictions have been reported in greater numbers over recent years, across departments in all corners of France, including in Wallon-Cappel (Nord), Ourvilleen- Caux (Seine-Maritime), Heiteren (Haut-Rhin), Flastroff (Moselle), Malmy (Ardennes) and in the Pyrenees.

In the village of Malmy, priests have been blessing tractors lined up in fields and elaborately decorated with ears of wheat or other herbs for 31 years.

The remarkable return of this tradition is in large part due to the work of associations. Retro Farming Heiteren, for instance, is organising its fifth consecutive benediction this month.

Douvrend, meanwhile, a village of 523 inhabitants in Seine-Maritime, broke its record last May with 327 tractors receiving a blessing. It has even spread to other ceremonies and events across the calendar.

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‘Keeping old traditions’

“The blessing of objects is a substitute way to bless people, talent, apprenticeship, transmission or other values,” said Edouard Le Conte, a priest in Lyon’s diocese. “Through tractors, it is the human harvesting activity, the effort of man that is encouraged,” he added.

Father Le Conte was asked to bless each of the 24 tractors of participants of the 2023 edition of the Forez Fiest’Agri, an agriculture contest in Loire-Atlantique taking place in August.

It was the first time he had blessed tractors, he said, but had previously blessed vineyards.

The ceremony and the benediction was requested by several Catholic farmers.

“It helps to keep old traditions alive and gets greater attendance for both the mass and the contest,” said Pierre Goutagny, the vice-president of the Loire section of the union reuniting young farmers and the organiser of the contest.

The contest awards the farmer who has harvested a plot of land in the tidiest, most regular and precise way.

“For believers, it gives hope of being unaffected by mechanical failures and performing under good conditions during the contest,” he added.

Mr Goutagny said the tradition of blessing tractors has always taken place in contests of nationwide importance since the 1950s in relative anonymity.

It has slowly been introduced to lower-level regional and department contests over the years.

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A ‘messe du laboureur’ (labourers’ mass) as Mr Goutagny calls it, has already been scheduled for the 2024 edition of the contest which will be held on August 25.